Ithaca is a city full of interesting things to do. Whether you’re looking for museums, performance arts, or something fun to do with the kids there’s always something to do in Ithaca!
The history of Ithaca runs back to the early 1800s. The town was founded by Ezra Cornell who later went on to be one of the founders of Western Union and Cornell University in 1865. Ithaca, like many places in upstate New York, became a popular destination for those looking to flee the crowded conditions of NYC for an area with fresh air and lots of space. This led to Ithaca becoming both a thriving business center as well as a beautiful place to live and visit during this time period.
Ithaca has always had some level of fame as being a great vacation spot – John Greenleaf Whittier wrote about his travels through Ithaca in 1892, especially mentioning its forests and waterfalls. Ithaca is still known for its natural beauty, many of which are located near the city, including but not limited to: Taughannock Falls State Park, Robert H. Treman State Park, and Cascadilla Gorge.
In more recent years Ithaca has come to be known as a progressive college town that is home to both Ithaca College and Cornell University. In addition, there are a number of other colleges located within 30 minutes of the city center! This metropolitan area is able to maintain a small-town feel due in large part to its rural landscape, surrounded by forest preserves and creeks/trails with easy public transportation between areas.
The following list is a look at some tourist attractions as well as things for those looking for something fun to do on their vacation.
Things to do in Ithaca, NY
There are a number of museums located both on the Cornell University Campus as well as near downtown Ithaca for those looking to learn more about the area’s history and culture. These include but are not limited to:
Cornell Plantations Botanical Gardens – Located on the west side of campus, these gardens feature multiple themes including water conservation, sustainable horticulture, and plant collections. They’re open year-round! Just be sure to check their hours before heading out since they change depending on the season.
Cayuga Nature Center/Wildlife Preserve – This is located just down Route 89 west toward Auburn NY. features an interactive natural environment with a 4-acre wildlife preserve, trails, and a 3000-gallon fish pond. Activities take place both indoors and out year-round!
Ithaca Children’s Museum – This premier museum is the only one of its kind in upstate New York. The Ithaca Children’s Museum is a dynamic learning center for young children from birth to age 12 that provides interactive exhibits, stimulating programs and activities that encourage discovery, understanding and provide the fun!
Ithaca also has a number of venues for those interested in seeing live performances as well as DJ shows throughout the week. Some include:
The State Theatre Of Ithaca – This historic theatre offers something for everyone including rock concerts, independent films, standup comedy, and much more! It’s also fully accessible for those with disabilities. Tickets are available online or at the door.
Ithaca College’s Schwartz Center For Performing Arts – This center is located right on campus and hosts a number of performances each year including everything from music to dance to the theatre! It’s an especially great place to see students work!
The Hangar Theatre – The Hangar Theatre offers a family-friendly environment with affordable prices, so you can enjoy world-class theater for everyone. They have something going on all year long so check their website before heading out.
Kids Activities in Ithaca, NY
There are tons of places to visit when looking for fun things to do in Ithaca NY that will appeal to children both young and old. Some include but are not limited to:
Ice Cream Truck – The very first of its kind in the upstate New York region, the Ithaca Ice Cream Truck is housed inside a converted 1959 Bread Box! It’s open daily and offers award-winning ice creams and desserts made in-house and from local ingredients.
Children’s Museum Of Science & Technology – This location features exhibits that allow children to discover science in an interactive way, with lots of hands-on fun for everyone involved. There are also workshops and events held on-site that encourage learning about science through creativity.
Ithaca Children’s Garden – Located on Cornell University Campus, this garden is designed to engage people in education and nature through play! Each year they host a number of events and workshops that children of all ages can enjoy.
Walking Tours – There are a variety of walking tours available for those looking to learn more about the city’s history and culture. These include but are not limited to:
Farm Sanctuary Walking Tour – Touted as America’s first shelter for farm animals, this organization features a one-hour walking tour as well as special tours for organizations by request. Check their website for pricing options/details on both before heading out!
Cornell Plantations Hikes – This is another option that offers a guided hike through their gardens that provides an opportunity to learn about plant collections and cataloging systems used on site. A list of upcoming hikes can be found here!
Snow Shoeing – This is a wonderful way to enjoy the winter months, and there are two locations in Ithaca that offer guided snowshoeing tours. The Finger Lakes Trail offers one from mid-December through early March each year while Buttermilk Falls State Park hosts their own version of this tour from January through mid-March!
Golf & Miniature Golf
Ithaca is also hosting many fun places to play mini-golf with family and friends. Some include but are not limited to:
Buttercup’s Miniature Golf – Buttercup’s offers 18 holes of challenging miniature golf right on Route 13 between Ithaca and Trumansburg! They also have an arcade featuring lots of classic games including air hockey and skeeball.
Ithaca Escape Room – Located on North Aurora Street in Downtown Ithaca, this facility is a fun and challenging place for friends and families to work together and solve puzzles in order to escape their respective themed rooms! Schedules and pricing can be found online.
Golf Mill – This is a great place to enjoy mini-golf with family and friends of all ages. They have many options for both kids and adults, including several 18-hole courses.
Bowling & Laser Tag
Ithaca Bowl – Located on Route 13 near Buttermilk Falls State Park, this bowling alley features 40 lanes of fun! They also feature Cosmic Bowling where you can bowl alongside your favorite music videos from the 80s and 90s in addition to laser tag and arcade games.
Ace Adventure Lanes – If you’re looking for an exciting way to spend time with family or friends, try out Ace’s newly renovated bowling alley experience! It includes 12 glow-in-the-dark lanes that allow you to bowl under black light!
Laser Zone – This facility features numerous laser tag arenas perfect for groups of all ages. They also offer glow-in-the-dark bowling, mini-golf, and arcade games throughout their location. Schedules can be found online or at their front desk when you arrive.
Arcade Entertainment Center – If you’re looking to join in on some friendly competition with family or friends, check out Arcade’s zone dedicated to classic arcade gameplay! You’ll find over 50 different games inside so everyone is sure to enjoy their favorite classics!
Ithaca Skate Park
Located in Caroline Park, Ithaca’s skate park includes various structures designed specifically for skateboarders and in-line skaters of all experience levels. It is open to the public and free of charge. During special events, such as Ithaca’s annual Skate Fest and Halloween Spooktacular, there may be a small fee for users.
Visit the city during one of two popular festivals-
Ithaca Festival – This is an annual festival celebrating Ithaca’s diverse cultures downtown on North Cayuga Street every July.
Ithaca Skate Fest – This is a day-long celebration of skateboarding and in-line skating where local skaters can compete and enjoy riding in a safe environment with friends and family. It is held every September on a Sunday at Caroline Park.
Recreational Boating & Fishing
There are several places to rent boats for fishing or just leisurely exploring the waterways here in Tompkins County!
Although Ithaca is a small city, there is something here for everyone looking for culture in this otherwise quiet city!
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